Radio Ads are white noise

Following the revived APA Advertising Awards I promised some observations on the main categories.shutterstock_281389733-e1470801992322

Radio has always been the medium with the greatest ability to reach consumers, so I’d like to start there. Last week I described the majority of the radio ads as jibber jabber.

A week on, I have a more considered opinion. Radio advertising in Kenya today is white noise. Physicists define this as ‘noise containing many frequencies with equal intensities’. Webster’s Dictionary goes further: ‘a constant background noise that drowns out other sounds. A meaningless or distracting commotion, hubbub, or chatter.

Commercial radio began in Kenya when Capital FM opened for business in the 1990’s. An exciting time for advertisers, creative people and radio listeners alike. Radio people who knew what they were doing collaborated with copywriters schooled in their craft, and clients who wanted their brands to stand out.

Together they deployed wit; talented actors; original music composition and clever audio effects. Radio commercials were scripted; pre-production and casting sessions held. When we went into the studio, it was usually under the direction of a qualified radio producer. Clients were invited to review rough cuts before approving a radio spot that all deemed worthy of transmission.

Audiences used to the drone of the two state organs – General and National Service – were delighted to hear commercial content that actually enhanced their listening pleasure. Old hands call it creating ‘theatre of the mind’.So, had radio advertisers become entertainers? Not exactly, but they did understand that listener attention had to be sought, not demanded.

Today’s radio advertising content is very loud. Like an empty vessel or a politician without a manifesto, it relies on brutish blaring to demand your ears.

There’s little original music. Unless you count the kind of noise made by a Genge ensemble falling down a long staircase.

Today’s voice talent is … largely absent. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that one married couple from South C now performs all radio voiceovers in Kenya. With the occasional interruptions from their idiot cousin, who has spent too long in Minnesota St Paul.

Radio commercials no longer blend entertainment and commercial message to any effect. In fact, most begin with a vague attempt at engagement (12 seconds) before bludgeoning the listener with prices, conditions and contact details (18 seconds).

I suspect that radio advertising has stopped engaging because the marketers who pay for it think it is a quick fix, and good enough for the audience. I would contest both assumptions. Indeed if I were the CEO of a business that advertises on radio, I’d be looking to find out who is wasting my shareholders’ money.

Although 7 awards were made in the radio category ( only one campaign really stood out for me. Radio Africa’s Professor Bamba campaign for the Bamba TV set top box. Delightfully scripted, cast and produced … it nearly made me reach for a subscription!


Chris leads the African operations of The Brand Inside











This entry was posted in Advertising, African Business, African entertainment, African marketing, Behaviour change, Brand Marketing, Brand Reputation, Branded behaviours, Chris Harrison Africa, Culture change, Direct marketing, Internal brand, Market Research, Social marketing, The Brand Inside and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *